Tantrums and biscuits – The beginnings of an EFL Teacher

The sweat is trickling down my forehead as I make the five-minute walk to the building where I will be spending the majority of my time teaching. The air is wet, not from recent rain fall but from the sheer humidity lingering in the air. I can feel it sticking to my pale skin and I immediately feel uncomfortable. I have also become a walking buffet for the many mosquitos hovering around and it seems that the leggy insects can’t get enough of me. My hair immediately senses the droplets in the air which are invisible to the naked eye and decides to increase in size. Not one increase in size will suffice and a dramatic new ‘Do’ is created in the short few minutes of my walk. I try to pat down the escaping tendrils that have now joined forces in a bid to escape my scalp but give up when I feel the sweat that has accumulated on my forehead. Along with the sweat, my body has decided to viciously hold on to the water in my body, making me unable to glide into the classroom with an air of grace and determination. I have no choice but to wobble in, clumsily.

I reach my destination and try to swallow my fear which has been choking me since I drank my first cup of coffee this morning. Grade 1. I gather my strength and wipe my face of any sign of terror as I make my way in. First I give them a warm smile, quickly followed by a look of horror when they start screaming. One after the other, as if they had been waiting for my very arrival to show me their glorious tonsils. For a split second I panic. Oh my god they are never going to stop screaming. Never. I pull myself together and reach down into the pit of my belly to find my booming, authoritative voice which had been dormant, gathering dust. “Grade 1, sit in a circle. QUIETLY”. Little arms and legs flap around frantically. A few of the little urchins are still screaming, whilst others are wide-eyed, studying the new figure in front of them. Once the flapping and flailing has ceased, I am left with a shape that most resembles a squashed tomato. Some of the class are facing me. Others have their backs to me. Some haven’t even got it in them to sit up. “Circle!!” I bellow. Still, it is a fruitless instruction and I am still left with a heap of children, all looking inquisitively up at me. One child has his finger so far up his nose that I am worried that he is permanently damaging himself. Another child has taken to studying my feet and seeing the scabs from walking around Bangkok in new shoes, his eyes light up in delight. He swoops in and starts picking. My protests telling him to stop fall on deaf ears and he practically salivates at the state of my feet and the many fleshy wounds he has to pick at. Three others sense that they are missing out and start to join in before, exasperated, I put my shoes back on. All four of them recoil in disappointment.

Story time gives me a moment to breathe, albeit temporarily. The silence falls upon the class as I act out the story, putting my drama lessons into great practice. They are all watching me with intrigue and I’ll be damned if I am losing them now. I act out various voices that would put a split personality to shame. My arms are flapping wildly and even my legs get involved, even though my butt is planted firmly on the floor. With my hair now sticking to my face in matted sweaty knots, I look crazed and demented. I make the mistake of moving towards the interactive white board to show the story visually. I firmly tell them to be quiet and start tampering with the wires and USB cables and whatever else that could be tugged at. I hear the noise behind me start with a low hum before literally seconds later I turn round to see full chaos unfold. Finally after what seemed like five hours of torture, I get the images up onto the board and the screams and whimpering’s come to a delicious halt.

Craft activity finally comes into full swing. Now is my chance to complete the register and learn 25 Thai names. Little hands tug at my skirt demanding more coloured pencils, pencil sharpeners and glue. One child starts sniffing the Pritt Stick whilst another starts practicing his Kung Pho moves on the carpet. I repeat myself constantly. “Sit down, colour in, beautiful picture, stop that, do not put glue on the desk, sit down, right that’s it!” I gravitate towards the ‘points’ system that is carefully displayed on the board, constantly. Holding my marker pen threateningly to the board, I loudly run through the team colours. “Red!! All sitting down? Good five points”. I delight in the effect it has. The children cross their arms and hold themselves up with a strange determination now that I am threatening to remove their beloved points. I can’t help but giggle and have to turn my face away to ensure that they see I mean business. You can hear a pin drop.

The lesson comes to an end and I swallow my dry throat and gather my belongings. Making the walk back to the staff room, I feel that I have aged slightly. The blood has drained from my face and I am almost translucent by the time I reach my desk and finally breathe. “How were they?” My colleagues ask, looking expectantly at me, wondering whether the new teacher will crack and fall to pieces. “Oh they were delightful, really delightful”. They smirk with a knowing in their eyes before handing me the biscuit tin. Welcome to the world of primary teaching in Bangkok.


Reviewing the suitcase

I have temporarily put a pause on my wanderings in order to obtain the documents needed to teach in South Korea. Filled with promises from various people claiming South Korea to be just ‘awesome’ I have decided that’s my next port of call, even though it looks colder than anything the UK could possibly fling at me. My partner in crime (well, my gay travel partner) could not stop going on about his obsession with k-pop and his need to find a Korean husband….Immediately. Not one to interfere with such a fab goal, I have decided to help him in his quest for love, and maybe find a hot guy in the process myself. So as I unpack, back with the parent and the promise of Tesco’s delights, I have decided to review my suitcase, mainly the ‘what was I thinking’ items.


After spending the entire duration of my trip in either flip-flops or canvas trainers, it is a fact that I really did not need to be lugging those wedges and black work high heels around the world with me. Did I throw them? Hell no. Once you find a good pair of shoes – especially the wedges – that are pain-free and go with anything, they are with you for life. Or until they fall apart in over wear which doesn’t bear thinking about. I did, however, wear the wedges once. This was purposely so I could justify them taking up room and weighing my suitcase down. And no I did not care that the roads in Hanoi do not cater for wedges.



I took four and wore none. Dreams of soaking up the sun on a Thai island, sipping cocktails were non-existent. Being a person that tries to ‘go with the flow and just see what happens’ I just seemed to travel north throughout the duration of my trip. My shorts, bikinis and summer dresses didn’t get a look in. Instead I wore the same grey jumper for the entire trip as this was the only ‘winter’ wear that I had managed to bring. By the end of the trip, I was sure it was ready to sprout legs and make a run for the door.

That dress

I have a lacy little number that always makes me feel good, covers enough whilst sucking everything ‘in’, sexy but classy. That too came along for the journey, never to escape the suitcase. Thoughts of great bar scenes, eligible gentlemen and fancy restaurants was replaced by chanting in a Temple, shivering from 4.30am winter mornings starts, 21 hour bus journeys amongst questionable body odours and dribbling noodles over myself. Wearing every layer of my suitcase to shield off the cold ensured that not only did I not bother with any beautification ritual or fancy outfits but I also didn’t want to. You could barely get me change out of my multiple layers.


Nail Varnish

Taking at least 5 bottles in my favourite colours, I assured myself that I would mix it up, colour coordinating and generally making my nails look pretty. No need to be a rough and tumble traveller, I said to myself. Just because you are ‘backpacking’ does not mean you don’t put effort in. Bahahaha. Oh the lies we tell ourselves. The majority of the journey was trying to get the damn stuff of my nails, particularly when I was living at the temple. Forgetting the nail vanish removal, I spent my time picking at the colour in a bid to rid myself of any sign of beautification (which was not allowed). Finally I manage to use some removal at the monks wife’s home and breathed a sigh of relief to finally be rid of it. Moments later M looks at me all excitedly and tells me she wants to paint my nails. Not one to dash someone’s delighted and hopeful expression, I proceed to let her do her worst, which was to paint my nails in garish colours with added flower prints. So much for looking natural.


Ah, I said natural….

Those skinny pants

Yes, I admit it. I took my skinny trousers in the hope that a few months hauling my luggage around South East Asia would melt inches from my thighs. Who knows when I would have the opportunity to eat, therefore bring the pants! Well its true, I managed to get into them and apart from being a bit snug, they did fit. Although by this time in my travels and with a whole new perspective  to boot, I suddenly thought – arse catapulted into the pants, why the hell am I doing this to myself?! Yes life is far too bloody short to spend my time wanting to fit into a pair of trousers! How absurd that a piece of material could have such a hold on me. So I bravely left them behind – to be donated of tossed, free to make someone else just as miserable with their unforgiving lack of elasticity.


They fit!!!

Now, I am back to parents house with all its questionable odours such as mould and dog farts. My days will be spent curled up on the sofa, devouring Netflix like a pro and in the process observe my mind as it turns to mush. I will indeed relish the art of doing nothing.

The moment I ‘weally’ knew

When I think about it, I know I should have done it sooner. It was always meant to be but something I shied away from for a long time. Reason for this is I always thought I would never be any good at it, with my past experience leaving a bitter taste in my mouth. I believed that I would not be able to make any difference, however small.

At 20, I made my escape from the UK to the smog filled Beijing. I was running not from home but mostly myself, not wise enough to realise that wherever you go there you are. I was riddled with loneliness and culture shock that gradually became worse with each day that passed. My days were filled with DVD’s in a bid to escape my reality and I slowly but surely lost my mind. I was also a terrible teacher. So completely absorbed in my own pain and misery that I could barely fathom a smile, never mind provide entertainment at a school that relished an all singing and dancing foreign English teacher. The grey sky and the sun – which was barely traceable through the polluted air – added to my constant state of melancholy. I tried desperately to ‘stick it out’. Ashamed to admit defeat and have family view me as some sort of disappointment, I continued to go through the motions, teaching a few short hours a day and rushing back home to climb back into an unmade bed. As one of the only foreigners in the entire area, having any social interaction was difficult and as the days went by, the urge to meet people diminished. I finally cracked and went back to the UK – tail between my legs – promising myself that I would never go into teaching again as I was awful and no student should have to suffer having a teacher like me.

Fast forward eight years and I am sitting in the ‘farangs’ Temple living room area. The table we sit at is made of solid wood, carved with various elephant figures wandering the Thai jungle. The seats that we sit on are so heavy to move that usually I don’t bother, and merely slide myself between the table and chair. They are solid and are also carved into elephant heads, each detail finely perfected. It is bitterly cold and we are both wrapped up in our scarves and woolly hats. I – with my great suitcase planning and bringing mostly summer wear – am wearing every layer, including my pyjamas under my 8 precept whites. Nursing my coffee to counteract the cold we begin our lesson. It’s all about grammar and today is all about the should, shouldn’t and couldn’t. I had managed to scrape together some sort of lesson from the paperwork I had lugged from Bangkok to Fang. Using this we sat, starting with general conversation before getting into the nitty-gritty.

My lovely student – a 41-year-old Chinese woman who has lived in Fang all her life – is able to hold a conversation at elementary level and has no idea how to use these words – should, shouldn’t and couldn’t – in a sentence, never mind their meaning. We get to work, with this being the opportune time to put my CELTA training to work. We sit side by side in the cold. Two Temple dogs sit, nibbling their flees at our feet and looking up at us expectantly with their big brown eyes. I hear the other ‘farangs’ chatting away under hushed breath. The sweeping of the hand-made broom echoes through corridor into the meeting area. With each completed task my student looks up at me, needing reassurance. I tell her that she is indeed correct. ‘Weally?’ she asks, eyes widening in disbelief and a glimmer of hope. ‘Yes. Really’. And in that moment something happens. I begin to fill with a warmth that starts from my head and runs right through my toes. I have never felt so good. Better than any night on the town with the promise of more alcohol. Not the dancing or flirting with random guys. Not the belly aching laughter of a night with friends. Not grabbing the last ‘must have’ item in the sale. No, nothing compared to this feeling of knowing that my student was ‘getting it’. Feeling her hopeful energy that lingered in the air. We both looked at each other – glowing – and in that moment I knew that this was what I was meant to do. I am meant to teach.

Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang

Laos scenery by bus

After searching frantically for where to go next after such an amazing stay at the Temple in Fang, Edwin and I decided on Luang Prabang. My plan was Bali, with visions of peaceful bliss, sitting on a deck chair sipping on cocktails. Instead we decided to see what Laos has to offer, with promises from fellow travellers of gorgeous Temples, amazing scenery and even better food.

We scoped out travel information on how to get there with our options being;

  •  Fly – which would take 1 hour and cost £100,
  •  Bus and slow boat – which would take a few days, time that we didn’t have seen as I had already booked the hotel
  • Bus – which would take 22 hours, give or take.

We went for the bus option. Mainly because not only was it cheaper at 1,500 baht but also allowed us to take in the views of Laos as we travelled through.

So, if you wish to take a bus here is what you do. You can’t book your seat online, so you will need to go to the main bus station in Chiang Mai. There, ask the information desk and they will point you to the Luang Prabang booth. There you will choose your seat (depending on what seats are left of course) and provide your passport information. You are advised to be at the bus station for 7.30am with the intention to leave around 8am. Remember this is Thailand and everything is on Thai time. After taking our seats on the single-decker bus, the driver then gave out blankets, water, iced coffee and snacks which meant that we left at 8.45am. The toilet at the rear of the bus is kept clean by the bus attendant. You will be given snacks here and there and are provided with lunch from 7-11. Mine was chilli prawns and rice which was actually very tasty. There were 3 stops along the way so you can stretch your legs, with the last stop being somewhere remote in Laos where you can buy dinner from one of the many restaurants. This stop was around 7pm, so be prepared to wait a long time in the journey to have a proper dinner, especially as the 7-11 dinner is a small. If you have a big appetite, you will get hungry. If this is the case, bring your own snacks to keep hunger at bay.

For your visa

Most of us on board did not have a visa for Laos. I had read somewhere through my research beforehand, that the bus does not wait for people to get their visa. With this in mind, unnecessary panic came over us when we arrived at immigration, making us practically run off the bus to get our visa in fear of being left behind in no-mans land. Do not worry. When you get to the Thai boarder you will go with the many other travellers to have your passport stamped as leaving Thailand. You then board the bus to be taken a few minutes along the road to Laos immigration. There you will fill in a form, provide one passport photo (have a few photos handy as on the form they state 3 copies are needed but they only took one) and pay $35. It is a fairly quick process, depending of course on the number of travellers there. The bus drivers will wait for you and as always with the wonderful world of bus travel in Thailand, they will do a final count before they continue on the journey, just to ensure no one gets left behind. You will be given a one month visa, which is very pretty in your passport and deserves a photo opportunity.

Once aboard, be prepared for the next stretch of the journey. Not only will the scenery take your breath away but you will also be just a little shit scared at the drops that plummet on either side of the narrow road. Of course, research shows that these are dangerous roads, so if you can knock yourself out on a sleeping tablet then all the better. The great thing about this journey is you sleep through the night, arriving at 6.30am so ‘jet’ lag is kept to a minimum.

The journey is incredibly bumpy and uncomfortable, especially though the night from around 12am to 6am, where I felt myself being lifted from my seat with every bump in the road. It is by no means a comfortable journey but it is cheap and you do get to see the amazing scenery and I especially loved the drive past the village homes, where our driver threw chocolate bars and sweets out to the children.

Laos village on route to Luang Prabang

You get to see the great rivers, misty mountains and vast jungle on your long journey before arriving in Luang Prabang. There be prepared to pay 100 baht to the tuk-tuk who will take you to your final destination, which for us was the khammany Inn, where we could recoup from the journey.

Mind games

Mindfulness. The definition is as follows;

Mindfulness refers to a psychological quality that involves
bringing one’s complete attention to the present experience on a moment-t0-
moment basis,

or involves
paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally,

or involves
a kind of non elaborative, non-judgmental, present-centered awareness in which each thought, feeling, or sensation that arises in the attentional field is acknowledged and accepted as it is.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Personally I believe mindfulness is realising how much of a time wasting idiot you’ve been for the last God knows how many years. Take for example my recent outing on alms with two monks from the temple. We walked towards the nearest town and as it was 6am, it was fairly quiet, except for the temple dogs, snapping at each other and the market being set up for the morning. The sky was still dark and the air was bitterly cold. We walked in single file, giving a generous amount of space between us. There is of course no conversation, with the main focus on each step and the rising and falling of the breath. My mind, on the other hand, had other ideas and instead of silent, thoughtful action, I had at least 3 imaginary arguments in my mind with various people. Some I do not even speak to on monthly, let alone daily basis.

I became aware of my mind then wandering down the ‘who will make the coffee when we get back’. I actually went through the whole scenario. I really don’t want to make the coffee. If I make one coffee, I have to make 6. Then certain people will be indecisive and then it will take longer for me to have the coffee. Why can’t people make their own coffee. I’m sick of making coffee’. On and on this went while we silently walked the street. Finally, I became aware of these thoughts and realised that all the actions involved in making a coffee are neither good nor bad. Getting the cups from the dryer is neutral. Putting a teaspoon full of coffee in each cup is again neutral. Adding milk, neutral. Adding water and stirring are again all neutral, so why the hell was my mind making this into a chore of mammoth proportion. I took a combination of actions that are neither good nor bad and labelled then as something horribly inconvenient.

The amount of times I do this uncountable. I realise I have no idea where I am or where I’ve been in my mind, most of the time. I am neither here nor there, existing in the no-mans land of the mind. I watch a beautiful sunrise, but I’m not there. I am already thinking ‘That’s a beautiful sunrise, I must get my camera…Oh I could post it on Facebook. Haven’t posted a sunrise before. I wonder what effect I can create with Photoshop. I bet my sister would love a picture’. It is exhausting. I have no idea how we are even functioning anymore as the majority of us are not even ‘here’. I spent that walk – what is a moving and humbling experience – in my own world. I also not only thought about the coffee situation but had imaginary heated arguments with multiple colleagues, who I no longer work with and will probably never see again.

I know there are multiple books on being present and in the ‘now’. These books are certainly helpful and incredibly inspirational. Although its one thing to read about it and another to experience it. No wonder I sleep so much. My mind is exhausted with the constant imaginary arguments, wanting, needing, criticising and judging.

I want my ego to leave. As far as I’m concerned it has been a horrendous ‘flat mate’, causing so much drama and confusion. It constantly lies and makes imaginary situations up, just to stress me out and make me miserable. Plus being on a silent retreat makes you really aware of how loud and unruly it really is. The problem is, is that it’s really comfortable where it is and it’s going to take a lot of work to be free from this ‘self’ that was created many, many years ago. No one wants to leave somewhere so cosy and accommodating but I’m afraid there is just no room for the both of us. The eviction process continues….

The good path

Following the 8 precepts.

1. Panatipata veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from destroying living creatures.

I have lost count of the times I have swatted flies, smacked mosquitos and squashed ants. When I was younger I was given a potato gun which brought immense joy. Every kid on the street had one and hours were spent finding potato’s, digging out the flesh with the gun and firing at everyone and everything. This included – in particular flies, in which I would practice shooting at them whilst they were still and completely unaware, delighting in my increasingly accurate aim.

It seems to be an unconscious reaction. When a mosquito lands on your arm, you immediately swat it. You know that their bite will itch and possibly hurt. Plus there are the diseases that they carry. You are certainly not going the welcome that mosquito with love, sending out thoughtful welcoming vibes ‘what’s mine is yours little fella’. So how did I fare on the first precept? Pretty damn good, if I may say so myself. Swatting was replaced by either waving them away or blowing them away. Ants, I would side step and if any were squished it was completely accidental. A few days into the meditation retreat I saw a beast of a mosquito in my room. My first reaction was to kill it. Then this changed to how I could get it out of my room harmlessly, whilst mentally congratulating myself at becoming much more mindful. I got some tissue and grabbed it, opened the door and was ready to let it go before realising I had accidently squished it. Oh the guilt!!! Never would I have thought I would be so guilty over a mosquito. I silently hoped it was just in shock and would magically come back to life. It didn’t and I felt terrible.

2. Adinnadana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from taking that which is not given. 

You may automatically think of stealing. Yes this is PART of it but it is also means taking ANYTHING that is not yours. For example, you see a gorgeous, red juicy apple in the fruit bowl. Its not yours but you reason that there are plenty of other apples in the bowl and what the hell, its just an apple! Ah no, its still not yours. This goes for helping yourself to someone’s coffee, sugar, milk. Even borrowing. You may be borrowing for just a minute but the owner of the item could well have needed it in that minute and therefor you have caused the other person ‘dukkha’ however small and seemingly unimportant the item is. I certainly became aware that I ‘borrowed’ quite a bit, or if there was a pack of biscuits, I reasoned that there were plenty of biscuits in the pack, so I would help myself. Although it was not difficult to follow, it really made me aware of my past actions. Guess that’s the whole point, becoming mindful of each action.

3. Abrahmacariya veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from sexual activity.

Oh this was so easy that there is no need to me to so into great length. You’re at a temple, surrounding by monks. You are not going to get any action so refraining really is an easy task. Outside of the temple would be a different story of course.

4. Musavada veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from incorrect speech.

Hmmm, now this was difficult for some of us. Incorrect speech not only includes lying, but also gossiping or exaggerating even slightly. Although I refrained somewhat from incorrect speech, my mind could not be controlled. When you are living with people 24/7 certain traits begin to grate on ones nerves. This is inevitable and it really is a test of patience. Sitting at dinner and hearing the scraping sound of the spoon against the teeth drove me to the brink of insanity, mentally cursing the person responsible for creating such a grating sound. Of course I never spoke the words of frustration but I thought it, causing myself ‘dukkha’. It is difficult, especially in the real world. My friend would start the ‘incorrect’ speech with the comment ‘its not incorrect speech if its true’ to which I would reply ‘If you think they would be upset if they heard you, don’t say it’. To which he was complain in frustration as he really wanted to say what he felt he needed to say. Yes its hard to follow, especially in the ‘real’ world but there comes a time where you realise that not only is it a waste of energy but it makes you feel like crap too. Gossip, however harmless is waste of time. Plus, haven’t you got anything better to do with your time? Is you life that dull that you need to obsess about other peoples lives and actions?

5. Suramerayamajja pamadatthana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from intoxicating drinks and drugs which lead to carelessness

Again, same as precept number 3. You are in the middle of nowhere, with limited night life and drinking opportunities. Again, in the ‘real’ world it is more difficult. For me its not the drugs but the drink. Can I say that I will never drink a glass or red again? No, definitely not and I know that for sure. It is something that I enjoy in moderation. I know this is seen as attachment and that is probably true, and I’m ok with that. I know that I can go for weeks without alcohol but I only know that now. Two months ago, I was drinking everyday. Wine mostly but also brandy. I also know I was drinking more than I would like to admit, using it to chase the unhappiness away. At least I know I can live without it peacefully but I am not ready to give up a glass of wine with dinner.

6. Vikalabhojana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from eating at the forbidden time (i.e., after noon).

This was the most difficult for all 3 of us following the 8 precepts and the one that I had the most difficulty following. I realised that by following this particular precept that food really does have a huge hold on me. It caused me the most ‘dukkha’ throughout the stay. My mind revolves around food. If we were running late and I knew that I was not going to get to eat until 11.50 (giving me 10 minutes to stuff myself) my anger would reach boiling point. If people were indecisive with their order, I would become furious. Stuffing myself, because I knew I would not get to eat until the next day made me furious. I started to enjoy food less as it became a countdown. The amount we would eat, just to pack as much in as possible was disgusting. Yes, I must admit, I felt better for not eating after 12pm but the amount of stress, especially if time was running out to have the last meal of the day, became overwhelming irritating. Also, breaking the precept, for example Christmas day, just brought guilt and eliminated all enjoyment.

7. Nacca-gita-vadita-visukkadassana mala-gandha-vilepana-dharana-mandana-vibhusanathana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from dancing, singing, music, going to see entertainments, wearing garlands, using perfumes, and beautifying the body with cosmetics.

Difficult to say the least. I certainly became mindful of how much I sing. Even humming which can be automatic, especially when we were completing chores. My friend and I began singing the chanting out of desperation, which worked surprising well. Not wearing make-up made me realise my attachment to beautification. Putting on my ‘face’ is an everyday ritual and I felt particularly vulnerable without it. I did use deodorant so I guess I broke this precept but I was not prepared to stink up my clothes and ruin other peoples experience with my nasty body odour.

8. Uccasayana-mahasayana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from lying on a high or luxurious sleeping place.

Easy to follow as the beds were hard and getting your own fluffy mattress was certainly not going to happen. After a while, you become used to it. Apparently it does wonders for your back as you are completely straight when you lie down. Also with 4.30 am starts on some days, your so knackered you will sleep anywhere.

Following the precepts certainly made me much more aware of my thoughts and actions.  Causing me to think more carefully, questioning my thoughts and becoming mindful with each pause.

Temple christmas

Its 6am and I am up, tip toeing along the creaky floor boards to get my morning caffeine fix. I see Edwin in the corridor and we wish each other a Merry Christmas under hushed breath, giggling at how surreal it is to be having Christmas here, in the temple. We wander to the market – wrapped in multiple layers – for our daily dose of banana and coconut sticky rice and fried bread (sort of like friend donuts but not sweet).

Breakfast donuts IMAG0215[1]

At 7am we take our places in the parlour for morning chanting with the lay people. As the chanting comes to an end we stand in rows and place sticky rice in the alms bowls of each monk, before taking our seats to chant and meditate together. The air is bitterly cold and I watch my breath as it exhales into the winter air, whilst listening to the hypnotic voices that echo through the parlour. At 8am its time for breakfast and grabbing our bowls we go to join the monks in the dinner area. Graham warns us that there will not be much food and both Edwin and I are happy about that, having filled up on donuts and sticky rice. We are also preparing for the Christmas feast so we’re trying to refrain from over stuffing ourselves. I picked up just coconut rice wrapped in a banana leaf which satisfied my sweet tooth. This minimal breakfast did not go unnoticed by one of the novice monks who was obviously checking to see that we would eat enough, as after breakfast he hands over a bag of food to Graham. ‘For Amy, she didn’t have much to eat’. That right there made my Christmas. Just how thoughtful and kind that one would be so aware of other at such a young age. Graham didn’t have the heart to tell him the real reason and that the communal kitchen was stuffed with alms food from the generosity of the people.


At 10am we mad our way to Graham’s house, where his wife Mew had cooked up a feast. Barbeque chicken, noodles, coconut curry, rice, and greens were laid out for us. It was the best chicken I have ever eaten. Mew had decorated to the entire place with balloons and tinsel. As soon as we had made ourselves comfortable,  Mew  got out hard-boiled eggs for where each of us (including the monks) had to draw a picture. ‘Isn’t this an Easter activity?’ we asked, to which Graham explained that she had seen it somewhere and had now adopted it for every celebration. Not that we were complaining, as all attention was on the task. Edwin got really into drawing Christmas holly, with multiple coloured pencils, while I went for a ‘spring day’ image. After the art competition, it was Secret Santa time where each of us picked a number and claimed our gift. I received a massive teddy which was later given to one of the young novice monks who had his eye on it for while.


Sitting around the BBQ, we began making the Papaya salad, grinding the garlic and chilli’s together with the tiny shrimp and crab. We chopped up the Mango into this strips to toss together. We then made the salad again, this time with cucumber strips. Still delicious but the mango one was certainly the winner. To finish the feast, hot-pot was served, where we all grilled our pork strips and scooped out the soup, which was brimming with noodles, cabbage, garlic and spice. Needless to say we completely broke our precept of ‘no food after 12pm’ but we did get a free pass from Graham, being Christmas and all. Bellies bursting with fullness, we wandered back to the temple for evening chanting and meditation before having our evening cup of Milo to warm us up.

If you had told me 3 months ago that I would be spending Christmas at a temple with the most generous, loving and kind people one could possible meet, I would never have believed it for a second. From office boredom to Temple Christmas, in just 2 months goes to show you how quickly your life can change, if you let it.